They are just about to start writing for a new album sometime next year, but the members of Death Cab for Cutie are taking some time to play a handful of shows in the West. Although he said part of it is to celebrate the end of a long tour cycle for their last album, there’s another reason that bassist Nick Harmer said the band is hitting the road again.
“The last time we played Reno (in 2015), I was not at the show,” Harmer explained during an interview from his hometown of Seattle in March. “My wife (Kate) was in labor in Seattle, so we had a stand-in bass player, and there were also a host of technical difficulties, so they had to shave off some time at the end of the show. So, when we were looking for shows to redo this year, Reno was at the top of the list.”
“We wanted to come back and play a proper, long set and say thank you to the fans that were here last time that did not get the full set from us.”
That long set will take place March 16 at Grand Sierra Resort, the same place where the band played in 2015. Once it and the other shows are done, it’s back to writing new songs for the band, who Harmer hopes will have an album out at some point in 2018. Harmer said that band guitarist/singer Ben Gibbard has been giving the group demo songs to listen to in the past few months.
“He’s been making a lot of stuff known to us and there are a lot of good ideas,” Harmer said. “A lot of our tasks during this time is to sift through his initial ideas and see if it sparks any further ideas as individuals. We keep extensive notes on parts and ideas, so when we do get into the room together, we have a running start.”
Harmer agreed that it would be too early to tell now if there’s a charge in the band’s sound with any of this early new material.
“With Ben still as our singer and primary songwriter, I don’t really see too much of a radical shift as far as our general approach to our aesthetic and songwriting goes.”
One fun wild card may be the group’s two members. Longtime guitarist/keyboardist Chris Walla left Death Cab in 2014, and his two touring band replacements — Dave Depper and Zac Rae, both on keyboards and guitar — have become full-fledged members of the group.
“They bring a bunch of new skills and new ideas, and it’s been really exciting to explore and have them contribute,” Harmer said of Depper and Rae. “I think that it’s really revitalized us in ways that were a big question mark and unknown before, so I’m eager to see how it all turns out.”
Harmer is the longest-serving member of Death Cab besides Ben Gibbard, guitarist and singer for the group. While in another band in 1997, Gibbard self-recorded and released an album as Death Cab for Cutie called “You Can Play These Songs with Chords.” From there, Gibbard recruited Harmer and others to make the group a full-fledged playing and touring band.
The band built up a grass roots following with several albums on the indie label Barsuk, including its first big break with the 2003 album, “Transatlanticism.” The first album with current drummer Jason McGerr, “Transatlanticism” was a big critical success and eventually earned a gold record. The new audience helped get the group signed to major label Atlantic Records. At that point, the band’s best known songs included “Photobooth,” “We Laugh Indoors,” “The Sound of Settling” and “Title and Registration.”
From there, Death Cab took off in the mainstream rock world, releasing four albums on Atlantic since 2005 and touring extensively around the world. Among the band’s radio hits are “Soul Meets Body,” “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” “I Will Possess Your Heart,” “You Are a Tourist” and “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive.”
Making a statement
Although they aren’t known for writing political lyrics, the band’s most recent song, “Million Dollar Loan,” was part of an pre-election internet song collection featuring top rock and indie artists to protest Donald Trump. Harmer said he isn’t sure if the band is going to write more about social issues on their forthcoming record.
“We’re just going to let it happen if it does,” he said. “We’ve never been an overtly political band, so I’m not anticipating it. I could see us, though, writing a song that would just celebrate humanity, which in this climate is a political act now, which I think is a really odd thing.
“I think for us it’s more about bringing things together instead of just using our position as a soapbox. But, as a band, we are political individuals. We’ve always been involved in issues and causes that are important to us, and we support those by playing shows and activism. I just don’t know if that will be in the songs themselves.”
‘A safe place’
One thing Death Cab did was release a statement late last year to reiterate that their shows “will always be a safe place for people of all colors, all genders, all sexual orientations and all beliefs to come together to celebrate music, love and mutual respect.”
As it happens, Harmer talked at length about the reactions to this statement, which ranged from full support to harsh criticism on the band’s social media.
“It made us scratch our heads and say, ‘Hey, everybody, let’s just not freak out here and love each other,’” Harmer said. “I’d like to believe that we live in a country where a statement like that isn’t controversial, but even that has been politicized — the idea of being inclusive is a political position you take, not just a moral or ethical way to treat humanity. It’s perplexing and something that causes me a lot of worry these days, still. We seem to be in a place where our country doesn’t want to build bridges but build walls. It’s a sad thing.
“But one thing that touring the world has allowed us to do is find that connection and meet people and see different experiences. I really love that people still want to be a part of that, and that we can be a part of that and see that. Hopefully, we can still all find that empathy or caring in all of us.”